7 million Venezuelans vote against plan to rewrite constitution

Sunday, nearly 7.2 million Venezuelans voted in a hastily arranged referendum designed to voice their opposition to the socialist president’s plans to rewrite the country’s constitution. One woman was killed by pro-government forces at a polling place. From the Guardian:

The opposition Democratic Unity coalition said a pro-government “paramilitary” gang opened fire in Caracas’ poor neighbourhood of Catia, where thousands were participating in the event. Video footage showed people scattering as gunshots rang out, many taking sanctuary inside a church.

“The day was stained by the killing of a Venezuelan woman who was protesting and exercising her rights,” said opposition leader Freddy Guevara of the killing of Xiomara Escot. “But violence cannot hide what has happened. The people are not afraid and are clear in their decision.“

This looks like the work of the colectivos, the unofficial muscle of the socialist party. You see them, usually dressed in red and riding motorcycles, at almost every opposition protest. Despite the violence, millions of people voted to reject the rewriting of the constitution and to call for elections. From CNN:

The referendum asked voters three yes-no questions. More than 98% of voters chose to reject the proposed constitutional assembly; request the military defend the existing constitution; and support fresh elections before Maduro’s term ends in 2019.

Cecilia Garcia Arocha, rector of Central University of Venezuela, announced the results at the referendum headquarters in Caracas, pointing out that the number of polling stations, at 2,030, was much lower than in regular elections.

Of course, President Maduro says the vote doesn’t matter and that he will continue to hold elections later this month to choose people to rewrite the constitution. The opposition has vowed not to participate in those elections. So what is their plan now? From CNBC:

Now, opposition leaders are promising “Zero Hour” in Venezuela to demand a general election and stop the leftist Maduro’s plan to create a controversial new legislative super-body called a Constituent Assembly in a July 30 vote.

Opposition tactics could include lengthy road blockades and sit-ins, a national strike, or possibly even a march on the Miraflores presidential palace, similar to events before a short-lived coup against Maduro’s successor Hugo Chavez in 2002.

“Today, Venezuela stood up with dignity to say freedom does not go backwards, democracy is not negotiated,” Julio Borges, who leads the opposition-controlled legislature, said shortly after midnight when the referendum results were announced.

I’m not sure there is any going back from here. President Maduro keeps saying everyone needs to be calm, but it’s clear to most Venezuelans he’s just trying to cling to power. His rewriting of the constitution is clearly part of that effort. Even if he follows through with it, it won’t change the terrible economic situation the country is in. People who are watching their children go hungry are not likely to have a lot of patience for this government’s version of rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

Here’s a video of the shooting outside a polling place: